Hard Lessons

To paraphrase a Bruce Springsteen song, life has been giving me some hard lessons lately, about pain, loss, disability and hope. Years of chronic pain, my mother's death, my hearing impairment and other serious medical problems have sorely tested me. When I finally found a doctor who took my pain seriously, he asked me why I had checked "suicidal thoughts" on my new patient questionnaire. I told him, "I have 30 years ahead of me if I live as long as my mother did. I refuse to live in pain for another 30 years."

In all that I've learned and written since then, the most surprising discovery has been my ability to remain optimistic about my life and my future. If you hear despair, anger, frustration and fear in what I post here, please don't turn away. All is not dark, and eventually a glimmer of hope will light the path ahead.

Saturday, April 6, 2013


I called my maternal grandmother "Dranny", apparently because I couldn't make the correct "Gr" sound when I was a tiny tot. This set a precedent not only for my younger brother but for the whole family. A family that was well-accustomed to phonetic naming long before I arrived. My mother's younger sister is named Frances, but because Mom couldn't produce the "Fr" sound, my favorite aunt became "Tantis" and later "Tanis". She's 90 years old now and still answers to Tanis. A person and a name I love so well that I wish I'd had a daughter so I could name her Tanis.

But back to Dranny. One of my earlier memories of her is watching her rise from a seated position as she grimaced and groaned, "I'm so lame."

That's not lame in its modern sense of being useless and ineffectual, though there are elements of that sense in what Dranny said. What she meant was, "I'm so lame, so stiff, so painful."

Sad to say, at age 59, I now understand what Dranny was saying. It's important to know that she worked as a private duty nurse into her late 70's, taking care of patients she called old ladies even when she was in some senses an old lady herself. Dranny wasn't a cry baby. Well, she might have cried, but she did it while she was soldiering on in a way that would be incomprehensible in a time when able-bodied people clamor for disability income while doing one-armed push-ups on the sidewalk outside the Social Security office.

The saddest part is that I struggle so much to push my aging body through things that seemed easy to me only 5 years ago. When I get up after sitting for more than 10-15 minutes, I hurt whether I move slowly or quickly. When I bend or stoop to pick something up off the floor, rising again is a struggle because it makes me dizzy and it makes my whole body strain. I can't imagine how I would do that kind of thing now if I hadn't lost 98 pounds since September 2007. For the first time I understand why it took my mother forever to climb up the 3 shallow steps to our porch and one more step into the house. I'm lame. I hurt. As I told a friend the other day, I feel that I'm losing ground every single day. And I'm only 59 years old. I exercise for 45 minutes a day, 5 days a week, and I work a job that requires me to move and forbids me to sit for 5 or more hours at a time. But every day when my hips complain about moves that were easy a year ago, I have to choke back tears. I wasted decades on obesity and immobility. Now I'm a healthy weight, but much of the time I don't feel healthy. I yearn to make up for lost time, but I'm not sure how I'll do that now. Because I feel lame, and I fear that I am lame.